The Junkers Ju 87 or Stuka (from Sturzkampfflugzeug, "dive bomber") became Germany's primary dive bomber and ground-attack aircraft for most of the war. Designed by Hermann Pohlmann, it first flew in 1935. The Ju 87 made its Making its combat debut in 1937 with the Luftwaffe's Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War and served the Axis forces in World War II, the Junkers Ju 87 or Stuka ‘Dive-Bomber' was easily recognisable by its inverted gull wings and fixed spatted undercarriage.
Upon the leading edges of its faired main gear legs were mounted the Jericho-Trompete (Jericho trumpet) wailing sirens, becoming the propaganda symbol of German air power and the blitzkrieg victories of 1939–1942. The Stuka's design included several innovative features, including automatic pull-up dive brakes under both wings to ensure that the aircraft recovered from its attack dive even if the pilot blacked out from the high g-forces.
The Stuka operated with considerable success in close air support and anti-shipping at the outbreak of World War II and spearheaded the air assaults in the invasion of Poland in September 1939.
Stukas were crucial in the rapid conquest of Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and France in 1940 and although sturdy, accurate, and very effective against ground targets, the Stuka was vulnerable to contemporary fighter aircraft, like many other dive bombers of the war. During the Battle of Britain its lack of manoeuvrability, speed and defensive armament meant that it required a heavy fighter escort to operate effectively.
After the Battle of Britain the Stuka operated with further success in the Balkans Campaign,the African and Mediterranean theatres and the early stages of the Eastern Front where it was used for general ground support, as an effective specialised anti-tank aircraft and in an anti-shipping role. Once the Luftwaffe lost air superiority, the Stuka became an easy target for enemy fighter aircraft on all fronts. It was produced until 1944 for lack of a better replacement. By the end of the war ground-attack versions of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 had largely replaced the Stuka, but Stukas remained in service until the end of the war.
An estimated 6,500 Ju 87s of all versions were built between 1936 and August 1944. Oberst Hans-Ulrich Rudel was the most successful Stuka ace and the most highly decorated German serviceman of the Second World War.
The design of the Ju 87 had begun in 1933 as part of the Sturzbomber-Programm. The Ju 87 was to be powered by the British Rolls-Royce Kestrel engine. Ten engines were ordered by Junkers on 19 April 1934 for £ 20,514, two shillings and sixpence. The first Ju 87 prototype was built by AB Flygindustri (sv) in Sweden and secretly brought to Germany in late 1934. It was to have been completed in April 1935, but, due to the inadequate strength of the airframe, construction was not completed until October 1935. However, the mostly complete Ju 87 V1 W.Nr.c 4921 (less non-essential parts) took off for its maiden flight on 17 September 1935.
The Ju 87 V1, powered by a Rolls-Royce Kestrel V12 cylinder liquid-cooled engine, and with a twin tail, crashed on 24 January 1936 at Kleutsch near Dresden, killing Junkers' chief test pilot, Willy Neuenhofen, and his engineer, Heinrich Kreft. The square twin fins and rudders proved too weak; they collapsed and the aircraft crashed after it entered an inverted spin during the testing of the terminal dynamic pressure in a dive. The crash prompted a change to a single vertical stabiliser tail design. To withstand strong forces during a dive, heavy plating was fitted, along with brackets riveted to the frame and longeron, to the fuselage. Other early additions included the installation of hydraulic dive brakes that were fitted under the leading edge and could rotate 90°.
The Ju 87 was fitted with detachable hatches and removable coverings to aid and ease maintenance and overhaul. The designers avoided welding parts wherever possible, preferring moulded and cast parts instead. Large airframe segments were interchangeable as a complete unit, which increased speed of repair.
The airframe was also subdivided into sections to allow transport by road or rail. The wings were of standard Junkers double-wing construction. This gave the Ju 87 considerable advantage on take-off; even at a shallow angle, large lift forces were created through the aerofoil, reducing take-off and landing runs.
Performance in the diving attack was enhanced by the introduction of dive brakes under each wing, which allowed the Ju 87 to maintain a constant speed and allow the pilot to steady his aim. It also prevented the crew from suffering extreme g forces and high acceleration during "pull-out" from the dive.
The fuselage had an oval cross-section and housed a water-cooled inverted V-12 engine. The cockpit was protected from the engine by a firewall ahead of the wing centre section where the fuel tanks were located. At the rear of the cockpit, the bulkhead was covered by a canvas cover which could be breached by the crew in an emergency, enabling them to escape into the main fuselage. The canopy was split into two sections and joined by a strong welded steel frame. The canopy itself was made of Plexiglas and each compartment had its own "sliding hood" for the two crew members.
The engine was mounted on two main support frames that were supported by two tubular struts. The frame structure was triangulated and emanated from the fuselage. The main frames were bolted onto the power plant in its top quarter. In turn, the frames were attached to the firewall by universal joints. The firewall itself was constructed from asbestos mesh with dural sheets on both sides. All conduits passing through had to be arranged so that no harmful gases could penetrate the cockpit.
The fuel system comprised two fuel tanks between the main (forward) and rear spars of the (inner) anhedral wing section of the port and starboard wings, each with 240-litre capacity. The tanks also had a predetermined limit which, if passed, would warn the pilot via a red warning light in the cockpit. The fuel was injected via a pump from the tanks to the power plant. Should this shut down, it could be pumped manually using a hand-pump on the fuel cock armature.
The control surfaces operated in much the same way as other aircraft, with the exception of the innovative automatic pull-out system. Releasing the bomb initiated the pull-out, or automatic recovery and climb, upon the deflection of the dive brakes. The pilot could override the system by exerting significant force on the control column and taking manual control.
The offensive armament was two 7.92 mm MG 17 machine guns fitted one in each wing outboard of undercarriage, operated by a mechanical pneumatics system from the pilot's control column. The rear gunner/radio operator operated one 7.92 mm MG 15 machine gun for defensive purposes.
The engine and propeller had automatic controls, and an auto-trimmer made the aircraft tail-heavy as the pilot rolled over into his dive, lining up red lines at 60°, 75° or 80° on the cockpit side window with the horizon and aiming at the target with the sight of the fixed gun. The heavy bomb was swung down clear of the propeller on crutches prior to release.
Flying at 4,600 m (15,100 ft), the pilot located his target through a bombsight window in the cockpit floor. The pilot moved the dive lever to the rear, limiting the "throw" of the control column. The dive brakes were activated automatically, the pilot set the trim tabs, reduced his throttle and closed the coolant flaps. The aircraft then rolled 180°, automatically nosing the aircraft into a dive. Red tabs protruded from the upper surfaces of the wing as a visual indicator to the pilot that, in case of a g-induced black-out, the automatic dive recovery system would be activated. The Stuka dived at a 60-90° angle, holding a constant speed of 500–600 km/h (due to dive-brake deployment, which increased the accuracy of the Ju 87's aim.
When the aircraft was reasonably close to the target, a light on the contact altimeter came on to indicate the bomb-release point, usually at a minimum height of 450 m. The pilot released the bomb and initiated the automatic pull-out mechanism by depressing a knob on the control column.
An elongated U-shaped crutch located under the fuselage swung the bomb out of the way of the propeller, and the aircraft automatically began a 6g pullout. Once the nose was above the horizon, dive brakes were retracted, the throttle was opened, and the propeller was set to climb. The pilot regained control and resumed normal flight. The coolant flaps had to be reopened quickly to prevent overheating. The automatic pull-out was not liked by all pilots. Helmut Mahlke later said that he and his unit disconnected the system because it allowed the enemy to predict the Ju 87's recovery pattern and height, making it easier for ground defences to hit an aircraft.
Physical stress on the crew was severe. Human beings subjected to more than 5 g forces in a seated position will suffer vision impairment in the form of a grey veil known to Stuka pilots as "seeing stars". They lose vision while remaining conscious; after five seconds, they black out.
Once the Stuka became too vulnerable to fighter opposition on all fronts, work was done to develop a replacement. None of the dedicated close-support designs on the drawing board progressed far due to the impact of the war and technological difficulties. So the Luftwaffe settled on the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter aircraft, with the Fw 190F becoming the ground-attack version. The Fw 190F started to replace the Ju 87 for day missions in 1943, but the Ju 87 continued to be used as a night nuisance-raider until the end of the war.
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